By Linky Gray
Gender Studies Postgraduate, writing a masters thesis on the feminine identity in professional wrestling.
I’ve been lucky enough this year to attend Wrestle Kingdom 12 live in the Tokyo Dome, an incredible show, the show that most indie fans clamour to attend, however, it was a few months later when I was sitting in the front row of Wrestle Queendom, Pro Wrestling: EVE’s largest event to date, that I sat in awe, truly emotional and deeply fulfilled as a wrestling fan. I sobbed as I watched Viper go up against one of my wrestling heroes, Aja Kong and held my breath through Meiko Satomura’s match with Kay Lee Ray, I thought to myself: “This is what all wrestling shows should be like.”
It’s not hard to see, as a female wrestling fan, why Pro Wrestling: EVE is so widely beloved. A full card of women’s matches in an environment that is safe for women and non-binary individuals, no homophobia, no transphobia, no misogyny, no racism, no bullshit all feminist, underground wrestling. As someone who is rapidly approaching 30, my introduction to wrestling was WWF and I really started paying attention in 1999, which was a particularly dark time for women’s wrestling, the rubric often involved women being part of a storyline where they became background stories, performing love interests for their male counterparts and rarely seeing any mat time. It was a time where there weren’t any female opponents for Chyna to face and most women were valets, this evolved into a sideshow of the fetishization of women, bikini competitions, Diva Search, mud bath matches, ringside cat fights between valets and inexperienced wrestlers and the notoriously awful bra and panty matches. Women’s wrestling was a joke for many, many years affectionately referred to as “piss breaks” or “something for the dads to enjoy” and were tailored entirely towards the male gaze, it’s no small wonder after all of this that female wrestling fans have flocked to Pro Wrestling: EVE and why during this renaissance of women’s wrestling in the UK and across the pond why a few of us remain incredulous and at times, rightfully so. It can be difficult to confront and address underlying conscious and subconscious biases and stereotypes that we may harbour with respect to discourses of female wrestling. Though many of us believe we are well-intentioned, we can often unwittingly foster the commodification of women, as both performers and fans in this industry.
Being Scottish I often find myself at local events, particularly the thrice-annual Fierce Females show ran by Mikey Whiplash which holds the title of Scotland’s only all female wrestling promotion and features an array of local and imported talent, and has been supporting and nurturing some of my favourite up and coming wrestlers, such as Emily Hayden and Sammi Jo, but also features some of Scotland’s homegrown, world established performers, such as Viper, Kay Lee Ray, Isla Dawn and Jayla Dark. But outside of Fierce Females women’s championships are scarce in Scotland, to my knowledge the only two women’s championships are Discovery Wrestling’s Discovery Wrestling Women’s Championship currently held by Sammii Jayne and Insane Championship Wrestling’s Women’s World Championship which is held by Viper and has been defended in both the States and Japan. Considering the amount of wrestling promotions scattered across Scotland, this is hugely disappointing and watching some local promotions attempt to shoehorn in a women’s match in a stacked card has problematic connotations and is stunting the growth of Scottish women’s wrestling. All male and predominantly male cards set the precedent that men’s wrestling is the default and there are many who subscribe to the notion that wrestling is indeed a boy’s club; this lack of representation is pernicious in many ways. Just like when I was a wee lass, there are plenty of young girls out there and seeing their gender represented in the ring is important, strong and confident role models create strong and confident girls and women, defy commodification and push the ideal that women are equal to their male counterparts in and out of the ring. More promotions should consider women’s championships featuring Scottish wrestlers, which gives them the chance to form relationships with different crowds, more opportunities to showcase female talent would inspire more women to join training schools. Though women’s involvement, empowerment and coverage in matches has increased by manifold across the mats of Scottish venues, the range of scope it has on the audience, what it signifies and who holds the gaze with a position of authority is the key to debunking the notion that men’s wrestling is the default and cultivate growth for women’s wrestling in Scotland.
Book more women more often, book more intergender matches, book local female wrestlers, foster talent, listen to female fans, relinquish the novelty of female performers and present them as the norm.
Support your local female wrestler.